Has there been a more tumultuous year in the car rental industry than 2009? Gas prices peaked and car rental companies scrambled to meet demand for small cars. Then the credit crisis dried up funding and drove up the cost of money.

Next, travel demand dropped off the cliff with the rest of the economy. Add to that two OEM bankruptcies, factory shutdowns and a prolonged recession. Forced to hold onto cars longer and tighten fleets, car rental companies started realizing higher rates and more revenue per unit, and a lack of wholesale supply improved resale values.

The economy compelled RACs to trim the fat and analyze business processes. RACs started making money renting cars again. In the wake of these changes, a new business model is emerging. The program car concept is dying. OEM fleet mix is changing. Financing companies shuffle as RACs look for new ways to fund. Technology continues to level the playing field between the majors and independents.

So where do you stand? Do you have the latest purchasing and remarketing skills? Are you prepared for a new round of $4 gas? Do you know how to apply the latest automation processes to your fleet? Can you maintain a high level of customer service with less staff? Are your credit lines safe?

The 2010 Car Rental Show is designed to answer these questions and give you the tools to prevail in this post-recession business climate. Themed “Right Size, Right Now,” the Car Rental Show (CRS) will take place at the Las Vegas Hilton on April 20-21. Are you ready to head to Las Vegas to take advantage of new opportunities?

Keynotes Tackle Big Picture Challenges The CRS keynote presentations and general sessions tackle the big picture challenges and hot-button issues driving the industry today. Jeffrey Cerefice of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (DTG) will deliver the opening keynote address.

Cerefice oversees global licensee operations for both Dollar and Thrifty brands as well as the administration of DTG’s entire U.S. fleet. Cerefice’s keynote will draw on his more than 35 years of experience in the car rental industry. His address, “Successfully Navigating the New Car Rental Environment,” will guide car rental operators through the unprecedented challenges the industry faces today and offer insight into a sustainable future.

Following this presentation, car rental industry analyst John Healy of Northcoast Research will lead a panel discussion from Wall Street’s perspective. Executives from national and regional car rental companies and other industry practitioners, such as members of auction houses, online travel agencies and rental fleet financiers, will join Healy to discuss the capital market’s outlook and new growth strategies being adopted by car rental companies.

The experts at Eckhaus Fleet, one of the largest independent fleet distributors in the country, will present a “hands-on” keynote on fleet management. The Eckhaus panel will share tips on product availability, how to order in advance, keep the right fleet mix balance, plan for seasonal demand and sharpen your remarketing skills.

The American Car Rental Association has assembled a “think tank” of experts from different facets of the auto rental and travel industries to examine the no-show issue. This session will analyze no-shows from a policy, management, IT, marketing and customer service perspective. The panel will examine ways to overcome roadblocks to no-show fee implementation and develop a path to gain industry-wide consensus.

Industry legal expert and longtime CRS presenter Michael LaPlaca will discuss the latest in legal precedents reshaping the industry, including recent challenges to the Graves Amendment, negligent maintenance claims and how to properly deal with unauthorized drivers. Wednesday’s closing keynote presents the state of the automotive industry from the manufacturers’ perspective. Panelists from domestic and foreign OEMs will provide insight into auto rental fleet sales, changes in model mix, new model offerings, build-out dates, residual value projections and more.

[PAGEBREAK] Breakout Sessions Bestow Best Practices CRS breakout sessions offer tips and best practices for your car rental business. This year’s sessions include:

- CarTrawler will show how to automate the reservations process using its custom booking engine, with no software or hardware investment, set-up fee or annual charge.
- The online remarketing panel will educate attendees on how “upstream” remarketing can reduce days to sell and lower costs to remarket.
- The rate management experts of Rate Highway will break down the complexity of rate management strategy and show how to use rate automation to monitor your competition’s rates and adjust your own accordingly.
- Leaders in the planning and design of consolidated rental facilities will discuss the latest developments with conracs and how independents can overcome barriers to access, understand regulations and assess the cost of doing business.
- In the Time Management session, the Khoury Group will offer practical, day-to-day techniques that will allow you and your managers to get more done and “recapture your day.”
- The profit idea session is back by popular demand. In this session, car rental operators will share pre-screened, proven ways they’ve boosted profits in their business. Seminar participants will vote for the best idea and the winner will receive a free, fully transferable Car Rental Show registration.

Pre-conference Workshops Have International Flair The Car Rental Show is once again presenting a set of pre-conference programs on Tuesday morning. For the first time, the Car Rental Show will welcome international attendees with a seminar and networking session designed especially for them. Participants will learn about the latest technologies, counter selling techniques, fleet mix trends and new methods for buying and remarketing.

Concurrently, a panel of rental fleet lender representatives will participate in a discussion and Q&A session on rental fleet funding. Afterward, panelists will break up into groups to allow operators to ask more detailed questions related to their businesses specifically. Also back for a pre-conference session is the industry’s only Rental Car Professional Certification workshop from CIRAS (the Center for International Retail Automotive Standards) from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

Industry Roundtables — Get a Bagel, Get Answers The breakfast roundtables are back by popular demand. Scheduled for Wednesday morning from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m., the roundtables provide a forum in which operators can talk face to face with industry leaders. Roundtable topics this year include: making the leap from independent to franchise, implementing hourly rentals, maximizing your customer contact list to market your business, using GPS tracking systems for a higher ROI, analyzing “total cost of ownership” for your fleet and how to lower your insurance costs.

[PAGEBREAK] Car Rental Show Checklist Whether this is your first or 15th Car Rental Show, a little planning will help make your trip as productive as possible.

Do Your Homework

--Register early and save. Attendees who register before March 19 get $100 off the full conference pass of $550. Book your hotel early. CRS has negotiated an exclusive room rate for attendees of $65 per night.

--Go to www.carrentalshow.com and print a list of seminars you want to attend prior to the show. Speaker presentations will be available to download after the show. Last year’s presentations are online right now.

--Check out the Web sites of exhibitors and preview their products and services before you see them on the show floor. Contact an exhibitor before the show to schedule an appointment during the show, off expo time.

What to Wear

--CRS attendees are encouraged to dress business casual.

--Las Vegas temperatures at the end of April range from the low 50s to the low 80s. Dress accordingly if you plan on hitting the town at night.

Getting Around

--Cab fare from the airport to the Las Vegas Hilton runs from $15-$20.

--Another airport option is to take a limo. Limos usually have almost no wait and will often run only $10 more than a taxi. Find the limo stand through the same airport exit as the taxi stand.

--There is no monorail stop at the airport. However, the monorail does stop inside the Las Vegas Hilton and is a good way to get up and down the Strip. Single passenger fare is $5.

Schmoozing 101

--Have you ever gone to a show and thought you’re the only person who doesn’t know anyone? To make initial greetings easier, spend time planning some conversation generators you can use to gather information.

--Bring plenty of business cards and have the cards in a pocket within easy reach. Use a separate pocket to deposit received business cards. Jot down a few words regarding your conversation on the back of the card to jog your memory later.

--Attend all of the receptions and refreshment breaks. This is a great way to network and meet your industry peers.

--Exhibitors hold their raffle drawings in the expo hall at the closing reception. If you’re not there, you won’t hear your name drawn!

--Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet a lot of the time. This from a show veteran: “Ladies, forget the high heels. Be comfortable and don’t worry about making a fashion statement.”

--Come find me, Chris Brown, at the show. I want to know about you and your business!